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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I am extremely disappointed, although grateful to the noble Lord for the lengthy and detailed answer that he has courteously provided. I am also very disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, does not feel able to support this very limited amendment which is much narrower than the one she believed had some merit. I note that she was convinced by the letter sent to her by the Minister. It is a pity that I did not have the opportunity to speak to her before we came into the Chamber so that I could point out what I consider to be the defects in the answer provided by the Minister.

The Minister made two points that I should like to deal with. First, he said that the water company could in any event impose a water meter on a landlord so that it would not make any difference. That is true. However, equally

24 Jun 1999 : Column 1073

he can impose it on a tenant who cannot change it back. Whether or not it is imposed, we are talking about an altogether different idea. I am referring to a case in which a tenant under a tenancy decides to put in a water meter, and that is nothing to do with the landlord. After a year the tenant may decide to take it out because it does not suit him, but if the landlord comes back after a year he cannot do so. I regard that as a most unfortunate matter.

The second point relates to a matter referred to by the Minister in reply and on the previous occasion. The landlord can save himself by deciding to pay the water charges, and therefore he is the consumer, not the tenant, and can do as he wishes. I believe that to be a flaw in the Bill, and it is not appropriate for such matters to be dealt with by telling the landlord that he can get round it by paying the charges himself.

I am disappointed. Following the lengthy meeting yesterday, at which we took on board all of the points then made, I hoped that the Minister would find it possible to accept this amendment. If he does not, I conclude that there was no intention of accepting anything. I and the noble Baroness on the neighbouring Benches have raised several matters, but nothing has been accepted. That is a great pity. I believe that this amendment would strengthen the Bill.

Frankly, I did not realise, perhaps until an hour and a half ago, that this matter would be resisted. I thought that it would please the Minister. We have always tried to improve matters. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

3.57 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 116.

Division No. 1

CONTENTS

Ailsa, M.
Alexander of Tunis, E.
Annaly, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Berners, B.
Biffen, L.
Blaker, L.
Blyth, L.
Bowness, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.]
Buscombe, B.
Butterworth, L.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carnock, L.
Chadlington, L.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L.
Crathorne, L.
Crickhowell, L.
Cuckney, L.
Davidson, V.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dundee, E.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Foley, L.
Freeman, L.
Gainford, L.
Glentoran, L.
Halsbury, E.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Hanningfield, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Hemphill, L.
Henley, L. [Teller.]
Higgins, L.
Hogg, B.
HolmPatrick, L.
Hooper, B.
Iveagh, E.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Knollys, V.
Liverpool, E.
Long, V.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Luke, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Marlesford, L.
Merrivale, L.
Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Mountevans, L.
Moyne, L.
Munster, E.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Napier of Magda~la, L.
Norrie, L.
Northbrook, L.
Nunburnholme, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow of Woking, L.
Pender, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Quinton, L.
Rathcavan, L.
Rees, L.
Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Sandys, L.
Seccombe, B.
Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Slim, V.
Strathcarron, L.
Swinfen, L.
Teviot, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Walker of Worcester, L.
Westbury, L.
Wharton, B.
Windlesham, L.
Young, B.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Avebury, L.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Borrie, L.
Bristol, Bp.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Castle of Blackburn, B.
Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Crawley, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
David, B.
Desai, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Ezra, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Fitt, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Glanusk, L.
Goodhart, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grey, E.
Hacking, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Ilchester, E.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennet, L.
Lovell-Davis, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Methuen, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Nicol, B.
Palmer, L.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Razzall, L.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Serota, B.
Sewel, L.
Shepherd, L.
Simon, V.
Stallard, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Strafford, E.
Strange, B.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Tenby, V.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Warner, L.
Warnock, B.
Weatherill, L.
Whitty, L.
Wigoder, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

24 Jun 1999 : Column 1075

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Bill passed.

Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill

4.7 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Serota) in the Chair.]

Baroness Castle of Blackburn moved Amendment No. 1:


Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

PART I: COMMENCEMENT

(". Part I of this Act shall not have effect until comprehensive legislation embodying the pensions proposals outlined in "A new contract for welfare: Principles into Practice" (Cm. 4101) has been introduced.")

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden.

When the Committee has a chance to look at the amendment it will realise how very reasonable it is. The Minister laughs, which I am afraid shows rather clearly the Government's attitude to the whole question of the fundamental reform of pensions in this country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My laughter was because I was sure that my noble friend would not dream of bringing to the Committee any amendment that she deemed unreasonable.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: The big question is what the Committee thinks, and it is, I hope, on behalf of the whole Committee that I am now speaking.

The amendment seeks to say that Part I, which deals with the stakeholder pension, shall not have effect until the Government have produced in legislative form their comprehensive plan for pensions provision in the coming millennium. The question that will be uppermost

24 Jun 1999 : Column 1076

in most people's minds is "Why?" Why have the Government brought one item only of all the work on which we have been engaged for the past three years and put it this Bill? What are they up to? To fragment pensions provision is to confuse. I used to accuse the Government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, of having the principle of "confuse and move". But are we not in danger of emulating them?

What the Government ask us to do in Part I of the Bill is to say, "Here's your stakeholder pension. Pass it. Trust us. And trust us, incidentally, with a great deal of the details", because the House is left entirely in the dark as to many aspects of the Government's plans even for the stakeholder pension. It is all to be prescribed by regulation. So we are voting blind in any case.

What should have preceded the Government's introduction of what they call fundamental reforms in the pensions provisions of this country is a speech of explanation showing how each proposal fitted into all the rest; because they must interface if the whole edifice is not to fall apart. What I object to--I hope that the whole House will object to it--is having to vote blind. It is not good for democracy; and it is certainly not good for the pensions provisions of this country.

We have had three years in which the pensions review body, on which a number of us have served, has had intensive discussions on every possible aspect of pensions policy. What should be the role of state insurance? What should be the role of private insurance, the occupational pension scheme, and even--that unhappy experience--the personal pension scheme? The Government should have told us their plan and what kind of security system we would have at the end.

Goodness knows, the Government have consulted enough. It has been going on and on. Some of us began to realise that we were wasting our breath, and that the Government had in their own mind a master plan which they were not prepared to share with the rest of us. The stakeholder consultation document came out months after the pensions review body had been into its work. It is a later edition; yet it is the first to be legislated upon. Why? Why take it out of context? Can the Minister convince the House that there is in that anything but an attempt to disguise the whole plan--because if it were revealed in its whole, I think that there would be a large revolt on these Benches? My reading of this Government's tactics over this is that they always had a master plan. Secretaries of State for Social Security have come and gone in the past three years; and in the end the Treasury prevailed. We had the Treasury man; and this is his first product.

The Minister, Mr Darling, is a very nice chap. I like him very much. The hand may be the hand of Beveridge, but the voice is the voice of the Treasury. The Government always intended to let state insurance in this country wither on the vine. It is to go: "It's not proper insurance, is it?" Instead, society is divided into two halves. In the one half there are those who can afford the risks and costs of private insurance schemes; and in the other, those who cannot, who are to be baled out with means-tested charity.

24 Jun 1999 : Column 1077

The Government will not fight us cleanly on that because they know that they would not win. So they say, "No, you're quite wrong. We've got a stakeholder pension. Our aim is to ensure that everyone who does not benefit from an occupational pension scheme shall have a stakeholder pension to fall back upon. This is so clearly a noble principle that we can put it in separately, and without telling everyone else what will happen to the state insurance scheme, the basic state pension, SERPS, and other aspects of the policy, we'll all admit that occupational pension schemes are a jolly good thing". But I am afraid that the number who have those is declining; and many are abandoning the principles which govern the defined pension at the end of so many years' service in favour of money purchase schemes.

We are told, "Don't worry. We're going to spread these benefits". Yet the Government do not tell us what their ultimate purpose is. It is certainly not clear from the Bill, is it? Only two principles of the stakeholder pension are made clear on the face of the Bill. The first is that they must be money purchase schemes. They cannot be guaranteed defined pensions. Secondly, the only duty on the employer is to provide access to a stakeholder pension for employees. There is nothing to prevent the employers who have been contributing under occupational pension schemes switching to the cheaper and more insecure stakeholder pension scheme.

During debate, we can come to the detail of some aspects of the proposal. But on this amendment, I wish to concentrate on the fact that it is unfair to this House, and to pensioners, to say, "We've had three years of consulting, listening to your points of view, and all the rest of it. We shall give you one salami slice of our pensions policy". I happen to think that it is a rather inadequate slice. But it cannot properly be judged against what we know the Government intend to do, for instance, about fulfilling their manifesto commitment to make the basic state pension the foundation of their pensions provision. How do they propose to do that while refusing to restore the earnings link? Perhaps--heaven knows!--there might be a bright light of conversion shining in their eyes and they will give us the earnings link at last, the logic having overpowered them.

But there is this second great question mark: what will happen to SERPS? Noble Lords will understand that I have a right to be nervous because the Government change their tune from day to day. For instance, the Minister told us in the Second Reading debate that we have no manifesto commitment on SERPS. Minister, you had better read the document. I have it here. It is worrying.

If the Minister does not know about commitments, why on earth should the Government be intending to enforce them? The manifesto states:


    "Labour will retain SERPS for those who wish to remain". That is a manifesto commitment. Perhaps the Minister may say, "Ah, but we never intended to retain SERPS as an option for anyone". So we have to watch the words carefully and read the small print. It is only fair to all of us who have to legislate on these matters and to the pensioners concerned to be clear, to be detailed and to be honest about what you are seeking to do.

24 Jun 1999 : Column 1078

I think that the Government always intended to smuggle out SERPS through the back-door. But they did not say, "We will not retain SERPS as an option for anyone who wishes to make use of it". I know millions of people who would like to. How can we judge the stakeholder pension unless we know what are to be the alternative options open to people? Are we not right to wonder whether it is a bit of a smoke-screen for other designs that it will be harder for the Minister to make sound reputable?

So I make a plea to the Minister: please accept this amendment. It does not reject the stakeholder pension. It says only that you cannot expect us to accept it, except within the wider context of a comprehensive pensions policy. What is it going to be substituted for? I have no doubt that the Minister will have a very fluent answer indeed, but it will all be in general principles.

Here we have a legislative commitment that we are asked to commit ourselves to and we are merely saying that until an equal legislative commitment is put in front of us covering the whole area we ought not to be expected to judge. Once we pass this legislation it will be said, "Oh, it's a framework", and then the battle will start on regulations. By then people will be told, "It's too late to do anything about it. We have got it and the Parliament agreed, didn't it? You had an opportunity to express doubts but you didn't. You took things lying down". So I urge the Committee, regardless of party, to say, "We have a right to know the whole picture before we are expected to vote on a piece of it". I move.


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